Partisans Feel They Are Entitled To Their Own Facts

rick-scottYesterday I wrote about Oliver Stone’s selective use of history to sell a pre-existing narrative about the 20th century. Today I’d like to explore how partisan outlets like think tanks create facts to support their own narratives. Bloomberg has an interesting piece concerning some recent polling done in Florida.

The right-wing think tank The James Madison Institute has a new poll out claiming that 59 percent of Floridians oppose the extension of Medicaid benefits that Gov Rick Scott just authorized. Do 59 percent of Florida residents actually feel this way? Probably not. The poll was specifically designed to generate the results the think tank wanted. It’s a ‘push poll.’

First, let’s discuss why this poll is a push poll. It starts by priming respondents with questions about the national debt and the size of Florida’s existing Medicaid budget.

Then it gives an inaccurate description of the terms of the expansion. Poll respondents were told that Medicaid currently covers people earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s not true: In Florida, the limit for adults is 56 percent of FPL, and you must have dependent children to qualify. Respondents also heard that after three years, the state would be on the hook for “more than 10 percent” of the cost of newly eligible adults. That’s not true, either: The state’s share would be exactly 10 percent.

Finally, instead of asking for a straight yes-or-no answer, the pollster asked if respondents favored Medicaid expansion “even if it results in tax hikes and spending cuts.” This isn’t a poll designed to figure out how Floridians feel about the Medicaid expansion; it’s one designed to get them to say they oppose it, so the organization commissioning the poll can say it’s unpopular.

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7 Responses to Partisans Feel They Are Entitled To Their Own Facts

  1. chankyr says:

    The purveyors of news and stats are largely to blame for misinformation, but the consumers of info bear some culpability as well. A lot of research into behavioral economics/psychology has provided evidence that people generally are guided by their emotions, first impressions, and held opinions when digesting information. We tend to buy into the stats that support the narratives that we have faith in, and not surprisingly, a lot of political effort is put into perpetuating and molding narratives and providing supportive figures for them. It actually takes quite a bit of energy to critically analyze the info we consume. I think learning about biases, acknowledging the fallibility of our memories, questioning the core values which bind the groups of which we are members, etc,, leave a lot of people in a position of uncomfortable ambiguity. However, it is that far-off culture of critical info consumers which is needed to stop shenanigans like this and improve our democratic process as a whole.

    • Absolutely. Confirmation bias is a powerful force. We all desire to be told, ‘you’re right.’

      I enjoy reading about behavioral economics very much myself. Thanks for your comment.

  2. This topic is of special interest to me. The basic problem is not that people distort the truth or even lie outright, it’s how news is reported. The blame here falls squarely on the mainstream media, which remains the largest disseminator of public information. Although the quantity and diversity of news has increased since the Golden Age of Murrow and Cronkite, the quality has greatly diminished in my opinion. Corporate consolidation and the pressure to compete for advertising revenues has supplanted the critically important societal role of the Fourth Estate. When journalists are more concerned about their business concerns than they are about getting the story straight, the result is a flood of journalistic trash that most people have little time or inclination to sift through. I will also submit that this unfortunate situation in modern journalism didn’t happen by accident, and I offer the disturbing image of Fox News as an example.

  3. john zande says:

    It really is a sorrowful state of affairs when you simply can’t trust any poll. Sure, some are better than others, but the likes of Rasmussen (and friends like this The James Madison Institute poll) lessen effective public discourse. Almost everyone can point to some poll that supports their point of view… and that’s dangerous.

  4. Barneysday says:

    There’s an old saying that says, “statistics lie, and statistictians are liars.” It means that you tell me the results you desire, and I can make the numbers work. That’s why we all should constantly be dubious of any sort of “poll” results.

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